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How To Cast A Fly Rod

An experienced fly fisherman is art in motion. It is so awesome to watch a seasoned fly fisherman on the stream. I remember early on in my fly fishing watching a mentor of mine on his local waters. No matter what surrounded him, he could cast his fly anywhere he wanted and land it so delicately on the water. It took him years to perfect that beautiful motion and I would make it my goal to be able to do exactly the same. Of course it takes years to become this good but learning the basics can happen very quickly.

The good part is that you don't even need a nearby stream. You can practice right in your own back yard. You must become familiar with your fly rod, reel and the fly line itself. Each of these components has already been discussed in some detail in previous sections so you should be familiar with these already.

To learn good fly casting technique, find an expert that will take you under their wing and show you their talents and offer you advice on your technique. This could come by way of a guided fishing trip, paying someone at your local fly shop, taking a class at a local college or even seeking out someone from a local chapter of Trout Unlimited or other fly fishing club. Usually I think you'll find that people who like to fly fish like to share their knowledge and expertise. If you are not fortunate enough to find someone to teach you first hand then the second best option would be to watch and study videos on YouTube and then go out and practice the techniques you’ve learned.

Let’s take a moment for a quick exercise. The first thing I was taught was called the potato drill. First, go get a potato and a fork. Stab the potato with the fork, keep your wrist rigid and your elbow relaxed by your side and then, using just your forearm and wrist, raise the potato up right beside your face. Now try to dislodge the potato from the fork. To do this you make a quick forward motion, still keeping your elbow at your side, and thrusting your forearm and wrist forward and abruptly stopping at somewhere just below a 45 degree angle with a quick snap stop. The potato flies where the tip of the fork is pointing at the snap stop position. This is exactly how the fly casting stroke works.

The fly casting stroke requires only two short bursts of speed, one accelerating straight backward with a quick STOP and one accelerating straight forward with a quick STOP. The key is to know at what point to change directions and at what point to stop. And forget about your baseball swing or your golf stroke…the fly casting stroke has no follow through. Next it’s time to move on to the "reel" thing. Get it? Grab your rod and fly reel. Begin with about 20' of line extending out from your rod. Stand square to your target area with one foot slightly behind the other for balance. Grab the rod firmly just above the reel with your fingers wrapped around the cork handle and your thumb on top facing up. With your other hand, reach out two feet above the reel, grab the line, and hold it next to your belt buckle. Keep the rod tip low. Remember, there are four parts to a cast, the pickup, back cast, forward cast and presentation of the fly. With your wrist locked and your elbow relaxed at your side, slowly move your forearm back in a smooth motion. The pickup lifts the line out of the water. Slowly and smoothly accelerate your forearm into the back-snap-STOP position being careful not to go past the two o'clock position. The line will fly over your shoulder and behind YOU. For awhile you’ll need to turn your head to watch it until you get that “feel”. As the fly line starts to straighten out behind you, accelerate your forearm into the forward-snap-STOP being careful not to go past the ten o'clock position. The line will fly over you in a folded state that will be in the shape of a “J” forming a “loop”. As soon as the line straightens out in front of you, slowly lower the rod to the water thereby presenting the line and the fly. The leader and the fly should flutter down slowly and rest gently on the water.

When fishing with dry flies, you will usually repeat a series of back and forth casts (called false casts) to dry the fly and then to deliver the fly to your target. The most important thing to remember is to relax. The more you relax, the smoother your casting will be. Practice, practice, practice. It will come. Lets break down the fly casting technique as follows:

  • When you begin the cast, the rod is roughly parallel to the water as you start the pickup.
  • The back cast must be learned by feel. Bring the rod backward with the elbow relaxed down by your side and the wrist rigid to about the two o'clock position where you snap-stop and wait for the line to straighten out behind you. This is when the rod begins to "load". If you don't get this just right it can result in two totally different but equally frustrating results. If you wait just a tad too long, it will result in your fly either landing in the water behind you or lodging in a tree or other object. If you start the forward cast too soon it will result in a loud snapping or cracking sound which will ultimately result in your fly being dislodge, never to be found again.
  • As soon as the line straightens behind you the rod is brought forward in a smooth, accelerating motion to a snap-stop at about the ten o’clock position. Wait for the loop to unfold in front of you.
  • Once the line straightens out ahead of you, slowly lower the rod to the water guiding the fly gently down and presenting the fly.

Roll Cast

Now, let’s take a quick look at another casting method called the Roll Cast. The Roll Cast is used when space behind you is limited for a normal back cast or to straighten out the line ahead of you in preparation for your back cast. With this cast you hold the rod the same way you were taught above. With the line straightened out ahead of you slowly raise the rod back to the one o’clock position and hesitate for a moment to let the line stop and become still. Next, accelerate the rod forward to s snap-stop at about the nine o’clock position. Then lower the rod tip toward the water to present the line. I’ve purposely gone over the fly casting steps very generally and have not included graphics because I strongly believe that you will not learn the proper techniques by reading them. You must experience this first hand from a knowledgeable fly fisherman or from watching a good video. One last piece of advice would be to have someone videotape your practice sessions on the lawn so you can see for yourself if you’re timing is on and if you’re achieving tight loops. Again, the key is practice, practice, practice.

About The Author
Pete Danylewycz
Born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, Pete grew up fishing on the Great Lakes. Whether he's casting a line in a quiet freshwater stream or battling a monster bass, fishing is his true passion.